A product of the pandemic? Grizzly encounters up significantly in Yellowstone region
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Wildlife officials have documented seven grizzly bear encounters resulting in injuries so far this year in the three-state greater Yellowstone region, an increase compared to the previous high mark of three injuries in the first half of 2007.
Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team Supervisor Frank van Manen reported that there is usually a single interaction where a person is harmed in the first six months of any year, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported.
Data from the team dating back to 1992 shows that 17% of injury-induced interactions occur in the first six months of the year compared to big game hunting seasons in September and October when there are more injuries to humans and bears.
The team includes experts from the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and other agencies. The Yellowstone region includes Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Van Manen said there is no straightforward explanation and it could be chance, but it has not helped that there are more people recreating in the Yellowstone region as the coronavirus pandemic has given them a reason to spend more time outdoors.
“We don’t have the numbers yet, but we know that there have been a lot of recreationists out on public lands, especially during the time when the parks were closed,” he said. “Future years will tell us whether this is indeed usually an outlier, but I think it’s certainly a reasonable hypothesis.”
All seven encounters were in different parts of the region and have varied in nature, officials said.
“You have some that involved antler hunters, some that involved bikers, hikers, a tourist in Yellowstone, a Fish and Wildlife Service employee,” van Manen said. “It’s all over the map, which tells me there’s nothing in particular going on with the bears themselves.”
Wyoming Game and Fish Large Carnivore Supervisor Dan Thompson agreed with van Manen, saying the increase is likely because of more bears and people in more places.
“It’s somewhat inevitable, and that’s why we try to do everything we can with information and education,” Thompson said.